The Complete History of Customer Service Operations


October 2021


When does customer service begin? For your customer, it begins with the first perception they have of your business. However, its the first interaction between customer and business—in-person, over the phone or online—that gives businesses an opportunity to build a relationship.

Before remote desktop support, live chat and other contact center solutions, these connections came over complex phone trees and outsourced call centers, buggy interactive voice response(IVR) systems and telephone switchboards. As this early technology secured businesses an edge in connecting more frequently with more customers, that quantity often came at the cost of quality. Today, with more options available to meet customers in their preferred format, the pendulum has shifted back to prioritizing high-quality interactions that ensure the customer gets the outcomes they desire.

Below you’ll find a history of customer service operations in the modern age. Understanding these shifts in technology and service can offer customer service providers insight into where customers want to head next.

1876: The Telephone

The first major change to what would later be known as customer service operations came in1876 with Alexander Graham-Bell’s invention of the telephone, paving the way for an alternative way in which to contact stores and companies, beyond an in-person visit or a mailed letter.

1894: The Telephone Switchboard

During the first two decades following its invention, the telephone was a rare commodity. This changed with the invention of the telephone switchboard, which allowed telephones across the country to be connected to one other on demand. This also connected those individuals wealthy enough to own a telephone to store owners, creating a movement toward service at the customers convenience.

The 1920’s: Rotary Dial

While early telephone use called for operators to connect callers, the rotary dial acted as an operator by utilizing the numbers dialed to connect to the proper phone. The adoption of this technology allowed customers to more easily call companies with questions or complaints, beginning a new age for customer service.

The 1960’s: The Call Center

Call centers were launched in the early 1960s as a sales tool, but new technology in this area soon allowed companies to tailor these centers to address incoming customers’ calls.Companies hired agents whose sole purpose was to answer phones and resolve incoming customer issues.

1962: Touch-Tone Dialing

The American Bell Telephone System introduced touch-tone dialing at the 1962 World’s Fair, thus rendering rotary dialing obsolete. With this new technology came the ability for early computers to recognize and respond to sounds made by dialing, the early stages of IVR.

1967: The 1-800 Number

AT&T introduced the toll free 1-800 number to allow customers to call a company at no cost, without the hassle of collect calling or dealing with an operator. With the advent of this new system, consumers gained a fast, most cost-efficient way in which to communicate directly with businesses regarding their products and services.

1973: Introduction of IVR

This technology was the first step in allowing companies to move callers through specific menu options that would direct them to the answers they wanted without needing to wait to speak to a live agent.The first commercial application of an IVR system was an order entry system, but as the technology evolved it paved the way for the “virtual agents” we know today.

The 1980s: Call Center Outsourcing

Decentralized call centers made it easier to begin outsourcing of customer service to other countries, following the new trend to offshore goods production. With growing consumer access to telephones, the volume of calls going through call centers grew. By 1989, outsourcing call centers to countries like India and the Philippines had become a popular strategy for companies seeking to reduce the cost of providing around-the-clock support for customers.

The 1990s: The Internet

With the introduction of the Internet came a new channel through which customers could interact with companies. As companies began moving to an online presence, customer service tools followed suit. Its safe to say that online customer service begins by 1996, at which pointInternet use had grown to support businesses’ use of email and 1-on-1 chat to personally interact with customers.

Early 2000’s: Customer Support Software

The explosion in software programming possibilities led companies to begin implementing integrated customer support solutions. Companies merged previously independent software and help desk solutions to form modern customer relationship management (CRM) systems that could track a broad array of customer data. Companies such as Salesforce, Microsoft andOracle became major players within the industry, providing contact centers with solutions ranging from CRM software to cloud-based solutions.

The Mid 2000s: Social Media

The launch of Friendster in 2001, LinkedIn in 2002, and MySpace in 2003 began to change how people interacted online. However, it was in the mid-2000s, as Facebook and Twitter took off, that customer-oriented businesses began to recognize social media as an opportunity to connect with customers in a more personal, if very public, manner.

The Late 2000s: Remote Desktop Support

As work and play moved increasingly online, customer service adapted to provide support in navigating online service issues. The development of remote desktop solutions meant customers could speak with a contact center agent on the phone or via a chat while executing agents’ suggested actions in real time..

The 2010s: Dedicated Mobile Apps

Just after the launch of the first iPhone in 2007 came the App Store in its many iterations. In2010, “app” was voted “Word of the Year.” By 2014, apps had shifted from a focus on fun to building connections. Companies soon jumped on this trend with dedicated mobile apps that could connect customers to services and information.

The 2020s: AI Driven Customer Support

Artificial intelligence-powered solutions are driving efficiency in customer service interactions. Among other items, these AI solutions can be used to predict what a customer needs before asking, facilitate a natural conversation between a customer and a self-service workflow, and create the optimal match between a customer and a support agent if a live interaction is desired.

This level of smart automation will play some role in future customer service support as customers expect instant answers to their questions. 

The Future of Customer Service

When does customer service begin today? The virtual and real world have become deeply intertwined, creating more opportunities than ever for customer service interactions. Despite this, customers expect a greater degree of personalization, with customer service interactions that make them feel like priorities.

While evolving technology is likely to throw some curves into the future development of customer service, its a safe bet that companies should be prioritizing an orchestrated omnichannel approach. Todays multitude of communication options mean that customers expect to find answers in their preferred format, at their convenience. Companies will also want to consider how they can efficiently manage a hybrid approach that combines virtual support with real-world interaction.

To learn more about how your contact center can stay ahead of the curve, and help drive the next era of customer service innovation, contact Eventus Solutions Group today.

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